St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Reaching a Kid with Crystal Radio

    An excerpt from some stories about my 6 years of teaching school in Wisconsin.   This one is set on Washington Island, WI -- in Lake Michigan, a ferry's ride from the tip of the Door County Peninsula.  The names are changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. 
Allen was not interested in anything.  An eighth grader, he was best buddies with Don and Dave, two brothers, one 7th and one 8th grade.  They all seemed unreachable.  They refused to do any homework; sat rigidly quiet in their desks until I wasn’t looking then shot spitballs around the room.  Years of strict discipline had honed their skills so they didn’t get caught.
  Allen was slightly more open, and at times you could see he was interested in the science experiments, but managed to keep from jumping in.  Don and Dave didn’t show any signs of loosening up.
One day, when the lesson was over, and the kids were supposed to be working on their assignments. I started a project.  I stepped out of my classroom to the schoolyard directly behind the big bank of windows so everyone could see what I was doing.  I nailed an electric fence wire insulator as high as I could reach in a nearby tree, ran a wire over to an open window by my desk.  I nailed an insulator on the wood siding as high as I could reach, then hooked the wire stretching it tightly 8 feet high, about 20 feet long.  I connected an insulated wire to this and ran it through the window into the classroom.
While I was working on this, several students came out to watch with questions of what I was doing.  My internal rules for the classroom were that kids who were learning didn’t need rules about sitting, moving, etc, and if they weren’t learning, it was probably my own fault.  I didn’t state any rules for the kids other than “behave the way you know you should,” followed up by “Gee, if you really have to go to the bathroom, just go. I don’t want to know the details!”
Continuing the project, I came back in connected another wire to the heating radiator next to my desk.  All this time the kids were bothering me asking me what I was doing, following me around including Don, Dave and Allen (most likely because they saw an opportunity for some deviltry along the way).  I wouldn’t answer questions, just made comments like “needs to be pointing towards Green Bay to pick up a strong signal,” “got to make sure the antenna isn’t getting grounded,” “needs to have a good ground.”    The kids were boisterously puzzled.
I sat down at my desk and opened a shoe box and brought out “toy.”  A six inch square wood base, mounted with an empty toilet paper roll wrapped neatly with 100 turns of copper wire, a piece of tin that slid back and forth across the roll and a tiny earphone, some connections, and a tiny little electronic component wired to the coil.   “I need to hook the antenna here, and the ground here,” clipping on my newly hung wires. Then I stuck the earphone in my ear. “Quiet, I need to hear,” I ordered everyone who by then was clustered tightly around my desk.
Moving the slider slowly across the coil, I stopped it in the middle, smiled and started moving my head and snapping my fingers as if to music.  “What do you hear? What is that thing?” Allen was in the front and absolutely fascinated by what I was doing.
“Here, try it,” I said, handing it to Allen, “stand back guys and be quiet, you can all have a turn.  It is a radio, it’s called a crystal set. I made it last night to see if I could pick up a station out here on the island.”  
Allen took charge and gave each a turn. “Where’s the battery? Can I make one,” he asked with a rush of questions after things quieted down.  
“Well, Allen, I’ll make a deal with you.  If you start working on your assignments, I will help you make one.  I have some spare parts that you can have. First thing is when you get home, save an empty toilet paper core.“
“Russ, do you know what is wrong with Allen,” Janitor Jim, asked me after school that day.  “He went into the bathroom and unrolled a whole roll of toilet paper and dumped it all in the garbage can.”  
Allen built his radio, helped several others build their own.  This was his turning point; with a few more projects (i.e. homemade model rockets, tooth pick bridges, paper airplanes and the Great Egg Drop) he took on his other work in a cheerful friendly manner that spilled over into his other classes.
That left Dave and Don and another story is how with a telescope and star chart they too got interested and active in science.

Monday, May 28, 2018

2018 Memorial Day at Wolf Creek Cemetery

Scott took 70 photos of Memorial Day at Wolf Creek, Sterling, Polk County, Wisconsin.  Here they are without editing or removing the bad ones..

Wolf Creek Cemetery Memorial Day  2018
Ninety degree temperatures didn’t stop 160 plus folks from gathering at the Wolf Creek Cemetery in Sterling Township for Memorial Day ceremonies.  One hundred twenty US flags on veteran graves, hundreds of flower pots filled with blooms as well as massive century-old lilacs and spirea gave the cemetery a festive look on a serious day.  Local folks have been remembering veterans here for over 140 years and doing it well.    
    The Veterans from the Cushing American Legion proudly marched in, standing straight as their weary bodies would allow, their  3rd  and last stop of the day for men whose wars are but history book stories to be studied in school. 
  Children recited poems and sang, the Minister exhorted, the list of 120 names were read, the rifle salute, honor guard, laying of the wreath, ending with taps bugled across the silent cemetery as folks remembered wars and wars and their casulties  that touch each family for generations.
    Soldier John R .Martin was honored with the Legion wreath this year.  The program over, folks visited and gradually drifted to the 1922 Wolf Creek School building (the Methodist Church) where the Ladies Aide had lunch read including cherry Kool Aide and potato salad.  
The Sterling Eureka and Laketown Historical Society continued its decade long tradition of researching one soldier’s name from the roll call.  A grave with a Civil War flag holder – John R Martin, 1831-1899 was chosen this year.  He is one of two Civil War veterans buried in Wolf Creek who fought for the Confederacy, the other being A. C. Neyman (Nimon Lake north of Cushing named for him). They rest among a dozen Union soldiers, at one time their enemy, but all grudges long ago forgotten and forgiven before they died, when old soldiers get together and swap stories of their youth, battles and comrades lost/

Sergeant ­­­John Richard Martin of the Alabama 47th Regiment, Company G, Army of the Confederacy
 John was born in Georgia in 1831, moved west to new land in Alabama in the 1850s, got drafted in the 1860s Civil War and served the Confederacy four years as a foot soldier, one of 80 survivors of the original 300 men in his unit.     
After the war, with Alabama in shambles, John, his wife Mary and their three daughters joined a group of 9 families who moved to Laketown, Polk County, Wisconsin in 1869 for a fresh start in life.  
In Wisconsin, John homesteaded 160 acres south east of Wolf Lake.   He lived a life of hard work, wresting a farm out of the deep woods, passing away in 1899 after having seen his three daughters married to local men.  Many of his descendants still live in the area with names:  Emerson, Lagoo, Doty and McCain.   
John did not believe in slavery, did not want Alabama to leave the Union that his grandfathers fought to create.  He and many of his Northern Alabama neighbors were caught in a war they did not think was right, but as men have done for ages, when drafted by politicians who start wars, put on a uniform and served.
  We remember his service today, and the service of well over 100 other veterans buried in this cemetery today. Each one has a story that should be told. 


The shade of ancient cedar trees  made 90F feel comfortable for these farmers who joked “Well we could be hauling hay,” when asked about the heat. 

That the Minister’s message was short and to the point surely was appreciated by the Veterans from the Cushing American Legion at their 3rd cemetery of the day.  

The Lagoo family gathered to remember that 5 of their uncles buried in Wolf Creek were WWII veterans. 

The home made desserts from the Wolf Creek Methiodist Ladies were standing up quite well considering the 1922 old school building has not air conditioning. 

Great to see you are still above ground

Sunday, April 8, 2018

April 7-8 at the Bird Feeder

The bird feeding season is just about over.  We try to give it up when the birds have other food and the bears tear everything down.  
Our trailcam caught what happens beside the birds at a feeder in our farm yard.  The soundtrack is from a tape I copied from Jennie Nelson of Sterling many years ago.  She and her siblings and mother were "musical."  I don't like to use copyrighted music or my videos on youtube are limited in distribution. 
It starts with a bird feeder tipped over

Then a bird feeder destroyed

Video link
24 Hours at the Bird Feeder

Trumpeter swans are waiting for nesting season to begin on Wolf Creek along Hwy 87

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

2018 Maple Syrup Season -- Slow start

The 2018 spring in NW Wisconsin has been cold and snowy.  We tapped in mid March and over 3-4 weeks have had very little sap run yet.  
April 4th, we finally cooked the sap we had collected since the beginning of season --and got about 7 gallons of syrup from batch #1.  It tastes good, is light color, but was a long time in coming. 
This week is too cold to run sap again, but next week looks better.  
  The woods has from 1 - 2 feet of snow, much of it new.  
To look at some photos of the last week and today (April 4, 2018) follow this link.  If you see bare ground--it is last week, as this week is all snow covered again.  
Maple Woods April 2018

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Building a House Phase 1 1993 Framing Lumber

On May 11th, 1992, we made an offer of $44,000 for 5 acres of land with a nice garage, well, septic tank and a 1974 (?) 70 foot mobile home on it.  
We were working in Rochester, MN at the time, had been renters for years, and finally decided to buy our own home.  However, the costs were very high in the Rochester area, and so we thought maybe we would try to build our own home on some land in the country. 
 The 5 acres as a 160 foot wide strip of woods, 1/4 mile long, an old wood lot on the prairies of MN near Pine Island, MN, but out in the country.  The area between two branches and valleys of the Zumbro River, meeting at Pine Island, had protected it from fires that kept the prairies tree free.  The wedge that was about 2 miles wide for about 5 miles west of Pine Island (a wedge of Pine trees) was valuable for farmers who settled the prairie and had no trees for building or firewood.  So the land was platted into long narrow 5 acres strips and sold for wood lots; 5 acres being thought the right amount.  The narrow strips so each had access to the road. 
  Most of the strips had been consolidated later and were farmland, but a few still remained.  Ours was heavily wooded with oak, basswood, bitternut hickory, butternuts and ash.  The elm were mostly gone already.  
  We looked at the land May 11th, and the back woods was untouched, unpastured deep woods, in heavy spring wildflower bloom-- wild geraniums, trilliums, waterleaf, bellwort, and all of the deep woods blooming lushly.  Margo was immediately sold!  
  The trailer house was well kept up, had a wood stove/fireplace and two bedrooms, and an addition for an entryway.  The 4-car garage had one separate insulated bay as a workshop.  
  So we made an offer of the full price and offered to do a land contract administered through the local bank so the sellers (two retired folks in their 70s who wanted to move to town) could get the principal and interest over 15 years.  
  And they took the offer and we moved in with the idea of building our own house ourselves.  Scott was 17 and for his last year of high school drove 15 miles to Byron where he had gone the first three rather than changing schools.  We didn't ask if he could, just let him do it without saying anything to the school district as we were relatively near the border already.  
   To build our cabin back in 1975, we cut all of the lumber on Dad and Byron's sawmill.  We cut the logs, sawed them, planed them to dimension for framing and for floor and roof.  Very inexpensive if not labor intensive. 
  So I thought we would try the same with the new house.  Here is the start of it through 1993 photos where Dad, Everett, Scott, Margo, Byron and I turned trees to framing lumber.  

Sunday, February 4, 2018

1930 Electric Power Line Crosses the St Croix River in Burnett County South of HWY 70

An interesting scrapbook came to the Luck Museum last week from New York.  I had exchanged emails last fall with Lisa N, whose grandfather spent the summer of 1930 working on electricity projects in Polk and Burnett Counties of Wisconsin and Pine County Minnesota. 
The scrapbook was 100+ photos of the project and included building a tower on the Wisconsin side of the St Croix River and running a high voltage line (66 kilovolts) from a new power plant in Pine City to Cumberland, WI.  
Wisconsin Hydro-Electric Co., headquartered in Amery, WI appears to have been the owner of the line.  A clipping from the a September newspaper, the Cumberland Advocate, explains the project.  Here is the clipping, some photos and some maps that are related to the St Croix River crossing only.  There are also photos of the new Pine City Steam Power plant being built, the Cumberland electrical substation, the Huntingdon MN dam, a dam near Star Prairie and some from Milaca.  
 All that is left of the St Croix Crossing is the tower base -- 4 galvanized irons sticking out of the ground on the high WI bank of the River. 
  Everett Hanson, my brother, said that the DNR crew he worked with in 1972 (or about then) came across them when building some trails along the St Croix  He said the folks speculated, but none knew what they were.   The next time he heard about the base was in 2015 when another DNR person, Mike Wallis, was looking at the area for timber sales.  At the time, he contacted Everett, who contacted me, and again we speculated, but found no information. 
  Finally we know!  The next question is --when was it removed.  As best we can pin it down right now is between 1940 and 1950.  


  Photos from the Harold M Holm Album.  He was one of the engineers on the project (noted in the clipping above). His granddaughter, Lisa passed along the album.  Harold was a Dane from Racine, WI.  At the time the power line was being built, Harold's father and mother-in law were living in Luck as Minister Neilsen of St Peter and Luck Lutheran churches.  Harold parked his truck in the parsonage garage, and Lisa's father was born in Luck.

Building the tower on the Wisconsin side of the St Croix River

Although you can't see it, on the far bank in the cut right of way is the electric tower on the Wisconsin side

The vertical line in the center of the photo is a wire overhead leading to the toweron top of the hill (not really visible here)
View from the St Croix Wisconsin tower looking east across the Burnett County, Anderson Township sand barrens. 

This is a view from one of the towers along the 54 mile line.  They were placed where lakes were crossed and over the St Croix River.  I don't know if this is looking east over the St Croix or somewhere else. The photos are not all labeled and not always in geographical order

The crawler was used for pulling up the H wooden poles

Working on the sand barrens 

This about 1940 land use survey map of along the St Croix in Burnett County shows the electric line angling from lower right to upper left. 

The tower had to have a special base built below ground

Complete tower

I put a line on a modern Google map where the line crossed the St Croix. There is no vegetation corridorleft now.

The 1938 Wisconsin Aerial photographs are on the internet.  With them you can trace the exact route from Pine City MN to Cumberland WI.  The route is Pine City to Benson (Randall) to Trade River, to Atlas, Luck, McKiney Cumberland.  I drew the yellow mark just above and right of the cleared right of way.  Here it crosses the St Croix River. 

About where the "4" shows on the map next to the Minnesota text is where the electric line crossed the St Croix River.  This is 1915.  The Railroad crossed the river to the south on its way to Grantsburg, WI

1938  with my yellow line at the St Croix River crossing

Another photo below -- not sure which side of the River,but maybe looking east into MN.  And not even sure if this is the St Croix River. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

History of the Wolf Creek, Polk County Wisconsin Cemetery by Duane Doolittle

Duane Doolittle, like his father before him, was on the Wolf Creek Cemetery board for decades.  He passed away in 2017, and left big shoes to fill as a Sterling town board member and Cemetery chairman.  
  In January of 2017, at the Sterling Eureka and Laketown Historical Society Christmas Party, I recorded him telling about the history of the Wolf Creek Cemetery.  

You can see the video at the link at the bottom. 

History of the Wolf Creek Cemetery

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Barn Gets a New Roof

Our farm barn is a few years over 100 years old.  The roof has been getting poor and in one place started leaking this summer.  We got several quotes and the best was with the local Amish roofers from Frederic, WI. 
  The came out 3 days in January, put 2x4 purlins over the whole roof and 2x6 edge planks, then screwed white steel panels. We had them put trim on too, do the milk house and then put red steel on the south end of the barn, in poor shape too.  
  Some photos from the work crew.